Welcome to the Daily Fantasy Roundup where we'll cover every inch of what you need to set a great FanDuel lineup every week. Last week wasn't a high-scoring week for chalk plays, unless your name was Devonta Freeman, but it was just plain weird. Josh McCown was a top-five quarterback, Terron Ward the RB13, and Tavon Austin the highest scoring wide receiver. That's right, thatTavon Austin led a group of wide receivers that saw Allen Hurns, Kamar Aiken and Riley Cooper finish as WR1s.
It's been two less than great weeks for daily fantasy players, but I'm excited about what's ahead in Week 5. There are several exploitable matchups, with value plays at every position. Also, we're a quarter of the way through the NFL season. The time for patient discovery is over, and the time for action is upon us. These teams have shown us who they are for the most part, and efficiency metrics are beginning to bear real fruit. With more accurate information and statistics at our disposal, good daily fantasy players begin to rise to the top from here on out. If it's been rough go for you so far, just hang on. Trust the process encouraged in this column, and your own research. From here on out, that's the strategy, and it will bring smart players the rewards going forward.
All ownership percentage numbers come via Footballguys' Justin Bonnema. Follow him for more great DFS information.
Top quarterback plays
Tom Brady - As long as Tom Brady is out to eat the souls of the rest of the league, we'll want a piece of the Patriots in daily fantasy. Brady ranks ninth in fantasy points per pass attempt, and is inside the top-20 for passes thrown despite missing a week. The Patriots should outright slaughter the Cowboys, and Brady will be a big part of why.
Philip Rivers - The Steelers defense has bumped up the last couple of weeks after lapping the field in poor pass defense statistics through the first few weeks. However, the numbers are tilted after playing Nick Foles in one of his fall-flat games, and Joe Flacco on Thursday night. We're still targeting this Steelers defense. Philip Rivers has thrown a touchdown on 5.7 percent of his pass attempts this year, and is a historically efficient touchdown producer.
Sam Bradford - The Eagles passing game had their "get right" moment in a loss to Washington last week. Sam Bradford actually uncorked a few deep balls, and opened up the entire field. In Weeks 1 through 3, Bradford averaged 83.3 air passing yards per game. In Week 4 alone, he gained 200 air passing yards. The Saints give up .8 fantasy points per pass attempt, which is the highest rate in the NFL. If Bradford is committed to actually incorporating deep passes into his game, this is the time to do it. The Saints also rank dead last in yards per attempt allowed with 9.8.
Alex Smith - Nothing is ever sexy or inspiring about using Alex Smith, especially in daily fantasy. However, the Chiefs are at home and should still be favored to win against Chicago. The Bears allow a passing touchdown on 9.1 percent of the passes thrown against them. That rate leads the league by far. Because the Chiefs offense is so predictable, and only runs through three skill position players, Smith is easy to stack with Jeremy Maclin, Travis Kelce or even Jamaal Charles.
Top running back plays
Jamaal Charles - While the Bears can't stop bleeding touchdowns through the air, they've only allowed two rushing touchdowns. While that positively skews some of their efficiency rankings against the run, they're still allowing 4.4 yards per carry. Devonta Freeman (40.9 percent) and Le'Veon Bell (28.4 percent) were by far the two highest owned running backs on the Thursday slate. Both of those two are in play this week, but if you're going for a high-end running back, Charles is the savvier play.
Justin Forsett - The Ravens finally seemed to commit to Justin Forsett last week, feeding him 27 carries against Pittsburgh. We can only hope that usage continues, because he's in a prime spot to succeed this week. The Ravens should beat the Browns, and play at home -- two of the primary ingredients for a big rushing day from the lead back.
Jeremy Hill - If you played Jeremy Hill last week as the contrarian play mentioned in this column, you hit big time. Hill produced three rushing touchdowns and was under 2 percent owned. After that big week, his value has stayed close to stagnant, and his ownership percentage is still at just 1.4 percent on the Thursday slate. Perhaps folks are scared off by the matchup against Seattle, and perhaps that's correct. While Andy Dalton has been hyper-efficient, letting him air it out against this secondary doesn't yet feel like a winning strategy. Regardless, you're going to want a piece of Hill for the short time he remains this much of a bargain relative to his expectations, and so under-owned.
Todd Gurley - We all know Todd Gurley went off last week, and is trending toward RB1 status the rest of the way. That's one of the issues though, everyone knows it. Gurley was already the sixth highest played running back on the Thursday slate, with an 11.8 percent ownership. He's also a tough sell on the road against a Packers defense that has been stout of late. After getting torn apart by Matt Forte, they've really stiffened up, and have not allowed 100 rushing yards total since the Bears got them in Week 1. They ranked 24th in fantasy points allowed to running backs after that Week 1 game, but rank eighth in Weeks 2 through 4. However, similar to my thoughts with Hill, I'd advise getting at least a little exposure to the Gurley action for the short time he remains at this value level.
Duke Johnson - The Browns backfield snap share was mostly an even split down the middle early in the season, but Duke Johnson is currently trending upward. He out-snapped Isaiah Crowell 43 to 26 in Week 4. Now that Johnny Manziel and his sandlot ball is on the bench, Duke Johnson has been getting involved in the passing game, getting 17 targets over the last two games. We'd like Johnson better if FanDuel was full PPR, but he's too much of a bargain to completely ignore. Baltimore should be able to score on this defense, leaving Cleveland in a pass-heavy game script. That means plenty of work for Johnson, who was split out wide more than a few times last week.
Top wide receiver plays
Keenan Allen - For the same reasons we like Philip Rivers, we'll be targeting Keenan Allen this week. He's only dipped below seven targets once this season, and had monster games with 17 and 18 passes thrown his way in Weeks 1 and 3. With an injury likely to sideline Steve Johnson, Allen should have his safest target share of the season.
Jeremy Maclin - It's time to respect Jeremy Maclin as a legitimate every-week starter in fantasy. He's seen 24 targets over the last two games, and hauled in 70 percent of them for catches. Observers paying close attention knew this was coming, as he had several good plays called back in the first two weeks. He's making plays after the catch on the dump-offs provided by Alex Smith. Maclin gets a great matchup with the Bears in Week 5. They rank 32nd in wide receiver points allowed per target. Kyle Fuller has been a big disappointment, but isn't getting help from his fellow starting cornerbacks. Maclin has over 280 yards the last two games, and should have another big game in store.
Jordan Matthews - We can't expect Matthews to ever get in on the deep game action for the Eagles. He's their slot receiver, and just doesn't run routes deep down the field very often. It doesn't matter how he's built, that's how he plays the game. But Matthews is still a regular in this offense, seeing at least eight targets every game, and can make plays after the catch. We still believe in him, and if the entire offense's functionality is improving, he'll trend up with it. That's just how it works for this archetype of player in fantasy. The Saints field the worst set of corners in the NFL at the moment, and allow the eighth most fantasy points per target to wide receivers.
Travis Benjamin - I profiled Travis Benjamin for Reception Perception this week, and was impressed with his game. There's no fluke in his early season output, and the Browns know it. They've used him in the underneath portion of the game more, especially on crossers, and Benjamin has 10 targets in each of the last two contests. Baltimore's secondary has been thrashed by wide receivers this season. They've given up 884 yards, seven touchdowns and the 10th most fantasy points per target to wide receivers. That would look even worse if Antonio Brown had caught a long touchdown against them that he inexplicably dropped in the end zone last week.
Leonard Hankerson - Let's even just set aside all the positive upward trends around Hankerson's usage and play lately, and take a walk down #NarrativeStreet for just a moment. Kyle Shanahan welcomes the Washington team that spurned him and his father several years ago to the Georgia Dome. Don't you think he'd like nothing more than to wield his newest coaching masterstroke, the reclamation project of another former Washington castoff Leonard Hankerson, against them? Andre Johnson, who looked about 100 years old in the first three weeks, just caught two touchdowns against his old Texans team last night. Proving once and for all, you never completely ignore the revenge game.
Kendall Wright - Throughout my DFS research this week, I was surprised by how little Kendall Wright got mentioned as a stellar value play on FanDuel. He leads the Titans in passing targets this season, and is a perfect mesh fit with Marcus Mariota. The Bills defense is intimidating on paper, but struggles to defend slot receivers, allowing 24 catches, 215 yards and three touchdowns to Julian Edelman, Jarvis Landry and Dwayne Harris over the last three weeks. The Buffalo pass rush gets home in a hurry, and quarterbacks are inclined to get quick passes out to these slot receivers. Wright is in a great position to be a week-shifting player in lineups based on his excellent value this week. Get plenty of exposure.
Kamar Aiken - This is the perfect intersection of value and opportunity we're looking for in DFS. When he's been targeted this season, Kamar Aiken has produced for Baltimore. Joe Flacco has sent the ball Aiken's way seven times in both Weeks 2 and 4, and the wideout responded with 10 catches 166 yards and a touchdown combined. He'll be counted on to tote that sort of volume on Sunday, as Steve Smith is dealing with a back injury. The Browns are a bottom-half NFL pass defense, giving up 1.22 fantasy points per target to wide receivers (ranked 19th), and .58 fantasy points per pass attempt to quarterbacks (ranked 26th). Their top cornerback Joe Haden, who wasn't playing well anyway, missed last week, and could miss another contest.
Willie Snead - Is Willie Snead the best wide receiver on the Saints? Judging by the early season film, it's a question worth asking. Despite ranking third on the team in targets, Snead leads the Saints in receiving yards and is the only wide receiver to catch a touchdown pass so far. He's been efficient with his chances, catching 72.7 percent of his targets, where his teammates have not. The second-year undrafted free agent is their new version of Lance Moore, with a tad more explosive ability. The Saints throw the ball 64.6 percent of their plays and the passing volume should be there in this tilt. The Eagles finally got on track with the deep ball last week, and should make this a back-and-forth game. It's strange to say, but if we're trusting anyone from this passing game to give some reasonable return, it's Snead. He's a tremendous bargain on the daily fantasy sites, and doesn't have to do much to return value to your lineups. If you're looking to stack studs, playing Snead gives you relief and flexibility.
Top tight end plays
Rob Gronkowski - He was on a bye last week, so just in case you forgot. Otherwise, tight end is pretty limited this week, as it's back to being the most nebulous positon in fantasy.
Charles Clay - With Sammy Watkins out of the picture, Charles Clay is the No. 1 passing target for the Bills. He's seen 24 percent of Buffalo's targets this season, the highest total on the team. Outside of Gronk, not many other tight ends run as many downfield routes as Clay. Among tight ends with at least 20 targets, he ranks fourth with 9.6 air yards per target, and is more efficient than all the players listed ahead of him, catching 72 percent of his targets. The Titans have been sneaky Oakland-like bad at defending the tight end (seriously). Tennessee allows 1.94 fantasy points per target and 12.35 yards per target to opposing tight ends. Both figures lead the NFL by a reasonably healthy amount. Clay is still a tremendous value-play this week.
Owen Daniels - This is the lowest-hanging fruit of the week, but you can't ignore it. Tyler Eifert, Crockett Gillmore and Gary Barnidge have put up career-best days against the Raiders this year. Oakland has allowed 74.8 fantasy points to the tight end position this year, almost a full 20 points more than the second most generous team (Giants, 54.9). Owen Daniels only has a 14 percent share of the team's targets over the course of the season, but that number is trending up with 21 percent over the last two games. He's also garnered 57 percent of the team's red zone targets in that span. Even if he doesn't explode like those players did, his value has him more in the punt play range for tight end anyhow. All you really need is 10 points for him to exceed value. It was surprising to find he was only 7.3 percent owned on the FanDuel Thursday slate.
Top defense plays
Giants DEF - Rarely do you get to punt a defense, and get a sweet matchup like this. The Giants D/ST has 11 fantasy points on NFL.com in three of their four games played this season. Outside of some flashes in Week 1 and fourth quarter garbage time against the Steelers, Colin Kaepernick's season has been an abject failure. He has a 66 passer rating on the road, and 37 rating on third down. The team as a whole has scored a combined 10 points the last two weeks. This is my favorite defense play this week, and it's not close.
Jaguars DEF- You're only going this route if you're dying to pivot off the popular Giants (13.2 Thursday ownership) at the same value. Jameis Winston and his 71.2 passer rating has been more than generous to almost everyone he's played. Opposing D/STs facing the Bucs this season have averaged 13 fantasy points per game on NFL.com.
Stack of the week
Peyton Manning/Demaryius Thomas/Emmanuel Sanders - This vaunted triple stack won weeks for DFS players last year, but isn't nearly as appealing this season. However, it's time to take this old horse out for one last ride. The Raiders are well-known for their inability to stop tight ends, but their cornerbacks aren't a set of studs either. Not to mention, Sanders and Thomas run many of the routes (crossers, seam-splitters, posts) that tight ends often go out on. We could see them take advantage of the Raiders safeties just as that position has against Oakland. Manning runs his offense through these two players with Thomas and Sanders seeing 32 and 27 percent of the team's targets, respectively. Additionally, as mentioned up top, this stack is no longer a super popular one. Manning (4.6 percent), Thomas (5.7 percent), and Sanders (8.4 percent) all fell outside the top-eight owned players at their positions on the Thursday slate. If you really want to pivot either Sanders or Thomas to Owen Daniels to get a little more value, that's a more than feasible strategy too. Either way, we're dusting off this popular 2014 stack for one last ride off into the sunset.
Best contrarian play
Jay Cutler - Both Adam Rank and myself wrote positive articles in our respective sleeper pieces here on NFL Fantasy this week. Here in 2015, who'd have thought? We both like him in a game with the Chiefs featuring two poor defenses that could sneakily turn into a shootout. However, the public still isn't buying in, as Cutler was owned in a measly one percent of FanDuel Thursday lineups. Compare that to 4.7 percent from Alex Smith in the same aforementioned contest, and you're getting quite an advantage by pivoting to the historically more aggressive Cutler. The Bears outside receiving weapons might not be healthy, but that should be negated by how poor the Chiefs are at defending the pass. They lead the league in air yards allowed (766) through four games. Opposing fantasy players have reaped the rewards too. Kansas City ranks 29th in quarterback points allowed per pass attempt and in wide receiver points allowed per target. With Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal both questionable, you might even consider going "naked quarterback" with Cutler, and not stack him with a fellow offensive player.
Best obvious play
Odell Beckham - After disappointing efforts by the top-flight receivers (Beckham, Julio Jones, Antonio Brown), instinct would tell you the public will look to shift to more value at receiver this coming week. You'd be correct, as none of these players were in the top-three owned receivers on the Thursday slate. As for Beckham, he's only owned in 9.7 percent of Thursday lineups, with a down Week 4 and silly immature narratives clouding public perception. The 49ers have been beat up mercilessly by passing games this season. They allow the highest yards per target figure (10.82), the fifth highest catch rate (67.1 percent), and third most fantasy points per target (1.43) to opposing wide receivers this season. Odell Beckham, who dominated halves of the Giants Weeks 2 and 3 games, gets back on track in a big way against San Francisco. I'm confident he shoves it in the face of stupid public backlash with a nuclear week. We need another diva elite receiver in this league now, anyways.
My near 100 percent exposure player
Allen Robinson - No shock. The Jaguars top receiver has faced one of the more difficult stretches of cornerback matchups anyone in the league has seen in three of his first four games. He dueled with Josh Norman and Charles Tillman in Week 1, the quietly impressive Malcolm Butler in Week 3, and Vontae Davis in Week 4. In his one game against inferior opponents, he went off for 150-plus yards and two touchdowns. His sporadic production has kept his value at a more than reasonable range. However, the team is still featuring him, and he's playing extremely well. Robinson ranks fifth in the NFL in air yards per target among receivers with 10 or more targets. He's the only receiver in the top-13 with more than 28 targets. The team is desperate to get him the football in high-reward situations. All signs point to him coming down with more of those against the Buccaneers secondary that should actually make Blake Bortles look functional. 2014 DeAndre Hopkins is probably the best comparison for 2015 Allen Robinson. Hopkins finished as the WR15, but had nine games with eight or more points, and seven games with less, finishing with an average of 9.7. There will be ups and downs with Robinson, but this week is set up to be one of the big ones.
Cheat code(s) of the week
Chris Thompson - Over the last two games, Thompson has out snapped his backfield mates 71 to 47 (Morris) and 41 (Jones), playing on 44 percent of the possible offensive plays. He's earned a role as the team's primary passing game back. He's garnered 16 percent of Washington's passing game targets. Thompson has made good on his chances with 81 receiving yards and a touchdown to go along with 82 rushing yards. Even though FanDuel is not full PPR, it's tough to ignore Thompson. Also, he's even scored a solid 22.3 points in standard over the last two weeks. The Falcons have been eaten alive by pass-catching running backs this season in fantasy. Since Week 1, Atlanta has ceded 31 catches for 300 yards to Darren Sproles, Shane Vereen, Lance Dunbar and the Chris Polk/rusty Arian Foster combination. Forget about just PPR, those players averaged 11.3 standard fantasy points in their games against the Falcons. The Falcons defense is improved, but their linebackers are too slow in coverage to deal with these ancillary players. Paul Worrilow might be the worst coverage linebacker in the NFL, and Thompson should roast him a couple times on Sunday. Thompson is listed under some running backs who won't even sniff meaningful snaps in Week 5, making him an insane value play. With an uptick in playing time, a perfect matchup for his skillset, and game script on his side, you can't pass up Thompson at his value. He was a shocking 0.5 percent owned on the Thursday slate, meaning if he hits, he's going to boost lineups to the top Week 5 finishers circle.
Boobie Dixon - This is a volume play based on LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams both being declared out for this game already. Bills running backs average 23.25 carries per game this season in their run-heavy offense. Dixon should be the leader in Week 5 with the injuries mounting, and is a big back who is a capable pass catcher. He already leads the team with three carries inside the 5-yard line this season, and can play on all three downs. Getting a goal-line back with three-down potential listed at the site's minimum, as Dixon is, is an out of control value. If you create a lineup with Thompson and Dixon to start out with, you're cooking with gas, and you'll stack plenty of high-ceiling stars in with them.